I’m so sorry but I would like you to go sit over there

A thought occurs to me about this gender segregated seating caper. The Equalities Adviser told Chris Moos that

All attendees are free to sit wherever they feel comfortable. If some female and male attendees choose to sit in separate areas, that is of course fine, however it is expected that there will be a large mixed area where anyone can sit.

Hm. Suppose some female and male attendees choose to sit in separate areas, and then someone from the “wrong” gender sits there. Then what?

What are the UCL people visualizing? That the voluntary self-segregators will very politely ask the interloper to go away?

That seems like the least coercive likely reaction, but really, think about it. Is it possible to ask someone that in a public place politely? No, not really. That’s why we don’t have segregation in public places. The whole idea is rude.

As usual that becomes obvious if you switch the category from gender to race. “Excuse me, but we want to sit together by ourselves – could I possibly ask you to sit somewhere else so that we can sit together by ourselves?” Not cool.

You can do that kind of exclusion and selection at home, but you can’t do it (decently) in public. It’s a bad idea. It shouldn’t be attempted.

Modernity means mixing. It means being a mongrel and living with other mongrels, and being content with that. It means letting go of archaic notions of purity, and getting used to sloppy mixing of all kinds.


  1. says

    I remember my mom talking about how she had to eat in the kitchen at restaurants when she was young, away from the whites. I think I would make a big stink about this if asked, and I’d be sure to mention my mother’s experiences.

  2. says

    People would be entirely within their rights to refuse to move to accomodate this outrageous sexism: take for example Rosa Parks’ refusal to move to the back of the bus. Fifty years later we would like to think most people have internalised that lesson, except that only last month an ABC newsreader, Jeremy Fernandez, was asked to move seats on a Sydney bus and when he reasonably refused to give way, was subjected to a racist tirade for a quarter of an hour that was passively supported by the bus driver. Incidents like this are usually recognised by most people as racism when they occur; but not as sexism for the comparable equivalent when the ostensible reason a person is being asked to move and be subjected to segregation, is their gender.

  3. says

    This was exactly my reaction when I read that statement in your earlier post. I would’ve commented but I was too occupied with other things to bother re-signing into my FtB account at that moment (for some reason FtB was no longer “remembering me”). I was thinking “Well what if a woman like me wanted to sit where all the men are supposedly voluntarily segregated or vice versa? How would organizers stop the whole thing and not just a ‘large area’ from being mixed?” I hope that there are many subversives in the audience who deliberately make the whole thing sloppy and mongrel. Purity notions are so degrading.

  4. alqpr says

    “That’s why we *don’t* have segregation in public places.” But we do! Not that there aren’t specific features of those settings (eg plumbing) that make them distinctive and not to argue that segregation is appropriate in other contexts but there are situations where it is considered appropriate and we do have procedures for handling violations.

    And washrooms are only one example – “public” meetings for female only discussion of sexual harassment experiences may well be entirely appropriate, and the question of whether or not to include the male->female transgendered in such meetings is often a source of contention. And even in “open” meetings on such topics the seating may need to be segregated for purposes of breakout into small group discussions. This is not intended to support whatever “the UCL people” are doing, just to suggest that the issue is not always completely trivial.

  5. Bjarte Foshaug says

    The whole idea is rude.

    YES! And this is where this whole fixation on civility and tone becomes a distraction from the fact that certain contents are rude in and of themselves, or even inherently hostile to other people’s most basic rights as human beings, and no tweaking of the wording is ever going to make an ounce of difference. If you’re sending me a mail bomb, the color of the wrapping paper is the least of my concerns.

    I am hardy the first person to point this out, but as we have seen, the observation that “The whole idea is rude” doesn’t just apply to religious ideas:
    * There is no non-hostile way to hold the view that women should shut up and put up with sleazy male perverts’ efforts to seek personal gratification on their expense or expect the same treatment as Rebecca Watson (or Ophelia, or Stephanie, or Amy, or Melody or EllenBeth, or Greta or Jen or…).
    * There is no “decent” version of the view that women should put up with any amount of harassment that hateful, misogynistic psychos and bullies can possibly manage to send their way or get off the internet.
    * There is no “legitimate” version of the view that every woman on the planet should behave in ways that amount to increasing her own risk of getting raped just to give sleazy, boorish male perverts from Hell the benefit of the doubt, and yet, if she does get raped, it’s still her own goddamn fault for behaving that way.
    * Etc. etc.

    As I have previously written elsewhere, the reaction to the comment in my gravatar is the reductio ad absurdum of any claim that “the other skeptical movement” doesn’t have a misogyny problem. The former reaction simply couldn’t happen in any possible universe in which the latter claim were true.

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